Port: To some NDGOP lawmakers, religion comes before economics

"With all due respect to our majority leader, 'opened up enough' is a tough pill to swallow for the bar and restaurant owners who have closed their doors," Sen. Scott Meyer said.

State Sen. Rich Wardner, pictured above, speaks at a previous legislative session. (FCC File Photo)
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MINOT, N.D. — It takes a lot of chutzpah for someone like Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner , a Republican from Dickinson, to say that the Legislature has "opened it up enough" when it comes to business hours for the hospitality industry.

Is Wardner blind to what's been going on in the world? The pandemic has, rightly, prompted limitations on the state's businesses, and it's been the bars and restaurants who have taken that regulatory right-hook to the chin.

They've been shut down.

Their seating capacities have been curtailed.

They're reeling.


Now, as they seek a small bit of succor in the form of legislation that would allow them to serve alcohol earlier on Sundays, their pleas may not be heard over the sound of thumped bibles.

The proposal in question is Senate Bill 2220 , introduced by Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks , and it would allow businesses that sell alcohol to do so starting at 8 a.m. on Sundays.

Currently, they can't do that until 11 a.m.

"Wardner said he's personally opposed to the bill for religious reasons, noting that he sets Sunday morning aside for church," Jeremy Turley reported .

Good for Wardner, but some would like to set Sunday mornings aside for brunch and bloody marys. Football fans would like to be able to pick up the case of beer they forgot about on Saturday before kickoff. A nurse working nightshift caring for COVID-19 afflicted patients might like to enjoy a well-deserved post-work cocktail.

Are these such unreasonable things?

I reached out to Meyer for his thoughts on Wardner's comments about his bill, and he wasn't terribly happy about them.

"With all due respect to our majority leader, 'opened up enough' is a tough pill to swallow for the bar and restaurant owners who have closed their doors," he told me. "I've seen the look in the eyes of operators on the verge of that decision and I see they are defeated. This small opportunity is just a part of what we should be doing to fulfill our obligation to make this industry whole."


Rudie Martinson, a lobbyist for the hospitality industry, was similarly nonplussed by the opposition. "This is a critical juncture for our hospitality industry in North Dakota and the nation," he said. "We encourage Legislators to dig deep and find real solutions for the thousands of workers and businesses across our state that have been significantly impacted — including the passage of SB 2220."

Last session sensible lawmakers, after a years-long fight, were able to overcome paroxysms of religious fervor from their colleagues to mostly end North Dakota's blue laws which prohibited businesses from opening before noon on Sundays.

The hospitality industry, however, still can't engage in one of their most lucrative trades before 11 a.m.

That needs to end.

This bill did receive a 4-2 "do pass" recommendation in committee, though with powerful leaders such as Wardner and Klein leading the charge against it, its prospects in a floor vote are anything but assured.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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